Climate Change Impacts on Bark Beetle Outbreaks and the Impact of Outbreaks on Subsequent Fires

Working Paper 31 Cover

The Insect 

Bark beetles are small insects that can have profound impacts on forests. While some species of bark beetles primarily attack trees that are recently dead or dying, others attack live, vigorous trees and can cause tree mortality across extensive areas. e Southwest is home to multiple species of bark beetles (Gaylord et al. 2006, Williams et al. 2008). In southwestern ponderosa pine forests the most notable bark beetle species belong to the genus Ips or Dendroctonus

Ecological Role and Impacts 

Bark beetles and re share similar roles in southwestern ponderosa pine forests. Similar to re, bark beetles are natural disturbance agents and help with nutrient redistribution. Tree mortality from bark beetles helps with snag formation, providing vital habitat for cavity nesting birds and bats, among other wildlife. Bark beetles are a food source for other insects and birds. At low bark beetle populations, tree mortality ranges from individual trees to small groups of trees leading to gap formation and increasing forest heterogeneity. Epidemics, or outbreaks, are also part of the natural cycle. In some ecosystems, such as mountain pine beetle in lodgepole pine, the forests are homogenized aer these outbreaks, helping to perpetuate lodgepole pine stands (Brown 1975). Historically, epidemics would subside due to excessively cold temperatures or because suitable host material (tree species or preferred diameter range) becomes depleted. Current bark beetle outbreaks in some forest systems are considered unprecedented (Raa et al. 2008, Bentz et al. 2009). Recent outbreaks appear to be driven by warmer/drier climate, an abundance of overstocked and homogeneous stands caused by past management decisions, or a combination of these and other factors (Raa et al. 2008, Bentz et al. 2010, Fettig et al. 2013). In essence, large-scale outbreaks are a result of many of the same factors driving catastrophic res and, consequently, both disturbance agents are having impacts on ecosystems